I might cry when I go home but I never cry here

WITHIN half an hour of the food­bank open­ing, Au­drey Flan­na­gan is hold­ing a young woman as she sobs on her shoul­der.

Au­drey is the man­ager of Glas­gow South East Food­bank

– a role that in­volves as much prac­ti­cal skill as it does em­pa­thy and emo­tional strength.

The food­bank, on But­ter­big­gins Road in Go­van­hill, has four ex­tra open­ing days in the run up to Christmas so that those in need can come in and pick up supplies for the fes­tive sea­son.

At reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, those who need sup­port come in to the cen­tre where they are greeted by vol­un­teers Su­san Miller and Theresa O’Brien who, with Au­drey, are the founders of the food­bank. They are given a fes­tive bag full of food and treats to make Christmas din­ner as well as a Christmas gift.

Some peo­ple are on their own but oth­ers are par­ents col­lect­ing for them­selves and their chil­dren.

Work­ing with Glas­gow’s Spirit of Christmas, the food­bank has gift bags full of toys and sur­prises for the chil­dren.

For the first woman who comes in, who has three young chil­dren, the kind­ness is too much and she breaks down.

Au­drey doesn’t hes­i­tate be­fore em­brac­ing her and of­fer­ing her words of com­fort.

“There are times,” Au­drey says, “You don’t hold it to­gether when peo­ple start cry­ing but I have learned over the years that open­ing your eyes re­ally wide stops the tears from com­ing.

“I might cry when I go home but I never cry here. If I cry, they’ll get worse and they don’t need to get any worse.”

She added: “It’s not dur­ing the day when I’m at work that I get upset. It’s at night when I get home and I’m on my sofa un­der my blan­ket with a cup of tea in my warm home and I think about how the peo­ple we are help­ing don’t have that. And that’s what breaks my heart.

This is the food­bank’s ninth Christmas help­ing peo­ple in need and the char­ity is over­whelmed with dona­tions to try to give peo­ple a de­cent Christmas Day.

But, Au­drey be­lieves, in mod­ern Bri­tain this sup­port should not be needed at all.

She said: “It makes me angry. Why is a food­bank sup­ply­ing the best Christmas they have had?

“This should be an emer­gency cri­sis cen­tre; it should not be their Christmas.

“Peo­ple tell us this is the best Christmas they have had but I know what we get and give in my fam­ily and what we are giv­ing out doesn’t com­pare to the vol­ume of presents the young peo­ple in my fam­ily get.

“That peo­ple are hav­ing to get their Christmas from a food­bank in wealthy 21st cen­tury Bri­tain – it’s atro­cious.

“I can’t even think of the words strong enough to prop­erly de­scribe it.”

Through­out the morn­ing peo­ple keep com­ing in to pick up their food parcels and presents.

One man is col­lect­ing for a fam­ily of 10 and he leaves the food­bank laden down with bags of gifts and food, which have been pre­pared by two stu­dents vol­un­teer­ing for the day.

Many are sin­gle men, who Au­drey says are the high­est de­mo­graphic for the food­bank.

She said: “The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple we see will be on ben­e­fits.

“Poverty is not dig­ni­fied but a lot of our ser­vices users carry dig­nity with them. It is ex­tremely hum­bling when you meet the ser­vice users who are com­ing in.”

One man is vis­i­bly moved by the pre­sent he is given along­side his food par­cel.

“You are a wee star,” he says as this is handed over to him. “Thank you very, very much.”

Au­drey says the food­bank vol­un­teers rou­tinely see lone­li­ness and hope­less­ness and what they aim to do is pro­vide hope for peo­ple.

Glas­gow South East food­bank is split over four lo­ca­tions – the char­ity has an of­fice where peo­ple go to be as­sessed for fuel vouch­ers, another ser­vice the food­bank pro­vides, and to meet with a sup­port worker who can sign­post them to other ser­vices they might need.

There are stor­age spaces – one in a con­tainer and the other in Glas­gow Elim Church.

And fi­nally there is the food­bank proper on But­ter­big­gins Road.

It is clear im­me­di­ately that the ser­vice has out­grown its home. Crates and shelves of food tower from floor to ceil­ing in the small space, there is very lit­tle floor space and the vol­un­teers dance round one another to avoid a crash while help­ing ser­vice users.

Glas­gow South East food­bank started off in Glas­gow Elim Church – where Au­drey, Theresa and Su­san are all mem­bers – but des­per­ately needs big­ger premises.

Au­drey has been on a search for a new home but, need­ing the food­bank to be in Go­van­hill or the Gor­bals, op­tions are lim­ited.

She said: “If we had a larger cen­tre I would like to set up a reg­u­lar lunch club.

“Peo­ple need some­where to come where they can so­cialise.”

“I’d like to be mak­ing peo­ple cups of tea when they come in for ap­point­ments, make them feel more wel­come, but we don’t have the fa­cil­i­ties for that.”

While the food­bank is in­un­dated at Christmas with gifts, which they are hugely grate­ful for, Au­drey says it is im­por­tant that peo­ple give all year round.

She said: “It’s won­der­ful that peo­ple give at Christmas and I un­der­stand why that de­sire is there but we need food all year round.”

In its first year, eight years ago, the food­bank fed 700 peo­ple. Last year it fed 11,200.

Au­drey said: “I find it hard to ac­cept how big it’s be­come. I find it hard when peo­ple say, ‘It’s great what you’ve done,’ be­cause it’s not great. We should not be here.

“But I can’t see an end to this.”

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